As online meetings, webinars, and online conferences become increasingly common, I’m finding that some tools I’ve used for other purposes are really good for taking notes online.
The key to taking notes online is that the technology take as little cognitive effort as possible so you can attend to what’s being presented and your thoughts about it. It’s also useful to be able to easily refer back to any given portion of the presentation.
I’ve written about Audio Notetaker in a different context, because it’s one of the tools I use to make interactive transcripts. The software was originally designed for folks who are dyslexic, but it’s mighty useful for anyone who’s taking notes from an online meeting or webinar.
Open Audio Notetaker and you see a grid with four columns – one for taking snapshots of the screen, two for typing words, and one for recording audio.
Start recording and the software captures the audio. Type notes into one of the two columns – it’s useful to use the columns for different things, like quotes and thoughts. When there’s a topic change, hit Control+Enter to start a new row. Because the audio is kept with the text, you can pay attention to what you’re looking at and take really brief notes. You can always go back to that section to fill something in.
Another key thing is the ease of snapshotting your screen.
Click Screen Capture, and a frame appears – size it around your screen, and every time you hit Control+Enter to start a new section you’ll get a picture of your screen in the picture column. I have a foot pedal set up to hit Control+Enter. It’s easy to click every time a slide changes, or a topic changes. So everything – a picture or slide, notes, and the audio, appears across from each other in the same row. Anytime I want to make a new row, which is a new section, I click the foot pedal.
It takes a just a minute to open a new file, name it, and set up the screenshot frame. During the presentation all I have to do is add notes (typed or spoken) and hit the foot pedal to make a new row anytime there’s a new topic or if I need a picture of what’s on screen.
When the presentation is over, the file contains pictures of presenters and slides, my notes, and the audio of the presentation – all lined up nicely in rows that also serve as sections. If I’ve taken even brief notes I can easily find anything in the audio that I want go back to. If I want to transcribe exact quotes I’m all set up to do so.
Sometimes, depending on the meeting, there’s a transcript. Zoom, for instance, has a way for a host to add a human transcriber or automatic transcription to a meeting. If the host has opted for a live transcript, you can click the CC icon/View Full Transcript to have the transcript show up as a column on the right side of the Zoom window – you can see this in the screenshots above. At the bottom of that column there’s a Save Transcript button. Press it at any time and it will periodically save to your computer so you’ll have the full transcript with time codes when the meeting ends. A second button at the bottom of that column will open the folder that the file is saved to.
When this option is available I click these buttons near the beginning of the meeting, and the open folder reminds me to copy the transcript to the bottom of one of the text columns for reference before I close the Audio Notetaker file.
The quality of the transcript depends on whether it’s automatic or a human notetaker. Automatic transcripts are notorious for odd paragraphing and punctuation, mishears like “Ms. Here’s”, mixing up similar opposite words like “can/can’t” and occasional garble. Usually at least 90% of it—and occasionally as much as 98% of it—will be remarkably good. Human notetakers vary too, but are usually easier to correct if you need a full, accurate transcript.
In the end, whether there’s a transcript or not, I’ve got the cognitive room to pay a lot of attention during the online meeting and by the time I sign off I’ve got all the information I need already saved and organized.